A few years ago it was perfectly normal to wrap your roll bar or roll cage with foam pool noodles – very few people knew any better. Now with the dissemination of information we’ve learned that’s a big NO-NO. For proper safety, the only ting you should use to wrap your roll bar tubing is genuine SFI roll bar padding.
Let’s put aside the debate of whether or not it is safe to run a roll bar on the street without a helmet. There are pros and cons to this practice and the possible flame storm caused by the topic is huge. Do your research and take a pick. That’s beyond the scope of this article. The importance of using SFI-rated roll bar padding is there whether you use a helmet or not.
Soft and Squishy = Not Good
Soft foam might feel nice and comfy when you squeeze it. The problem with soft foam is that if you can squeeze it, it’s actually too soft. In an impact, your head or helmet will compress that foam super fast to the point where you will be in pretty much direct contact with the metal roll bar tubing itself. No bueno.
SFI-approved padding for roll cage tubing is actually a high-density foam. High density foams are not designed to feel comfortable. You wouldn’t use high density foam to line your mattress or to make a couch. However, high-density foam is excellent for energy absorption.
Best of Both Worlds
There are also many different grades of high-density foam. Even further, there are various hybrid forms of padding such as dual-density foams. Dual density foams use more than one layer of different density foams to reap the benefits of comfort and energy absorption.
Yes, you can actually buy dual density roll bar padding. The actual correct term is dual durometer roll bar padding, or dual durometer SFI roll bar padding. This type of padding for roll cage tubing combines the soft feel of low density foam with the high-energy absorption capabilities of high-density hard foam.
Also note that popular motorsport suppliers also sell non-SFI-approved roll bar padding. This padding is less-expensive than SFI roll cage padding. Still, it’s high-density foam so it’s better than a crappy pool-noodle or insulation tubing, both of which pretty much do nothing for safety. It’s up to you if you decide to go with non-SFI-rated roll bar padding. However, do keep in mind that for almost any type of competition, even many amateur classes such as Chump Car or the 24 Hours of Lemons, as well as many track events, you might be required to use SFI/FIA Approved roll bar padding. Check the rules of any events you might be considering.
Wrapping it Up
While most drivers that opt for installing a roll bar or roll cage in their cars will never be competing, it is still important to use the correct foam roll bar padding. Using pool-noodles or insulation tubing to pad a roll bar is not right and most certainly not safe. SFI roll bar padding is the best stuff you can use and if not SFI-approved, at the very least it should be high-density foam from a known roll bar padding manufacturer. Finally, for the best of both worlds, dual durometer roll cage padding will give you the soft foam feel you might be looking for with the adding protection of high-density roll bar padding for one of the layers.
Disclaimer: This article is meant to help inform you of your options for roll cage or roll bar padding. It is also meant to mention the obvious – that low-density foam such as pool noodles and insulation tubing are not adequate materials for roll cage padding. Keep in mind that running a roll bar or a roll cage on the street without a helmet can be potentially dangerous or even deadly if you strike your head with the roll cage in the event of a crash – regardless of whether you have SFI-rated roll bar padding installed or not. Make your informed decisions, but you make them at your own risk. Also, look up local laws. Roll cages or roll bars are actually illegal on public roads in many areas.